Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Sealing and bridging: profit and loss by David Clarke


Last week I posted the IRB reminders on the interpretation of the law about “bridging and sealing”. It is not explicitly stated in the law book but here are the rough definitions:


Bridging: forming a bridge with your legs or knees and hands or elbows over the ball.

Sealing: securing yourself to the tackled player, preventing the opposition grabbing the ball and if driven back, taking the tackled player and ball with you.


Since, in the spirit of the game, players are meant to stay on their feet, any attempt by players who are not on their feet to prevent the ball being contested is illegal.


Market forces have prevailed though. Coaches and players are always seeking ways to profit from the laws.


Here is what it says in the Playing Charter at the front of the IRB Laws of the Game:


It is the aim of the team in possession to maintain continuity by denying the opposition the ball and, by skilful means, to advance and score points. Failure to do this will mean the surrendering of possession to the opposition either as a result of shortcomings on the part of the team in possession or because of the quality of the opposition defence. Contest and continuity, profit and loss.


Bridging and sealing have worked there way into the game as a method of retaining possession. There was a knowing conceit amongst some coaches and certain referees that this is okay. Others see it as dangerous, with a greater likelihood of players putting themselves in exposed positions.


This clip from some Amercian coaches says much about the feeling. You decide where the line should be drawn.

13 Comments so far
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Wow! This would be a great video to show how extremely dangerous the action of bridging/sealing really is. The first point (and why sealing should be outlawed) is that the sealer never has his/her eyes up looking at/for opponents coming in to the ruck. So the sealer never knows when the contact will come – it’s just like an American football tackle from behind – the devastating injuries don’t come as a result of horrendous contact, but because the body is not braced to react. Rather like riding a bicycle with one’s eyes closed, you know there will be something, but you don’t know when. Look at all the players in the video, none of them have their eyes forward. The comments “You know, it’s technically bridging but don’t worry about it.” “We’re going to show you how to keep it legal” says it all.
Young players – certainly those under 16 whose neck muscles have not developed, would be seriously at risk if they did what was shown in the video – even the women players there could not hold themselves straight.
It’s just like the squeeze ball – an accident just waiting to happen.
Have the players step over their prone colleague, face the opponents, and be braced for the contact.

Comment by Steve Johnson

OMW!… Does the USA Rugby Union sanction their coaches to teach THAT!?… ‘Keep it legal’?… that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!

Comment by Will Mbanga

This just shows you how bad coaching is in the states – and I am talking as a US collegiate coach. But I would also remind anyone watching this that coaching rugby in general, I believe, and regardless of country or background (or gender), sucks! There is so much garbage taught to so many people in so many ways and in so many countries in this sport, that it is best to say “I hope I am not teaching stupid shit like that to my players”. And who can be sure? But someone ought to find out who she is and say that this is terrible, right?

Comment by Mike Ashooh

It is not a comment on US coaches, but on many “coaching experts” who look for the shortcuts rather than the real skills. I have heard from and seen lots of good US coaches, who are generally better organised and more sports science orientated than coaches from other parts of the world. They can thank US football, basketball and baseball for that. These techniques are being taught by coaches worldwide, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not.

Comment by Dan

Common you guys!!! You see exactly what she is talking about all the time in the Guiness Premiership. I mean multiple times a game!! Pretty much every slow pick and go play. Im not saying its a good thing, and I agree strongly with the comment about not looking to see the contact comming. Better to “look over the rim of your glasses” like an All Black scrum coach would advise. The shruggin advice the blond coach refers to I think comes from American Football. The way the shoulder pads and helmuts are situated, if you shrug going into contact they conect and protect the neck.

If you have week support you need to keep the ball in the ruck until support arrives. Ideally you have early and strong support, so you step over the tackled player and drive though (open the gate) and a second or third rucker comes in behind producing quick ball (sometimes just one rucker needed)

If you need to seal/bridge to maintain possesion I like the advice she had about grabing the jersey of the tackled player, this should make it very difficult for you to be cleared out.

My understanding is that the bridging/sealing demonstrated is now being penalized. “Don’t worry about it” used to be more or less correct, but theoretically not anymore. We will see as time goes on. From what I have seen in the Tri Nations and Premiership the refs have been very inconsistent in every sense.

Hockey in north america has undergone a similar tweaking of the rules, actually numerous (as in failed attempts) to change some of the contact in the game. Also aimed at speeding up and/or opening up the game.

Here is my question to hopefully someone who has a real understanding of whats going on here. Can you bridge/seal if you grab onto the player that made the tackle? Or an opponent who is not on their feet?

Comment by Matt

I am lost for words.

Comment by Hugh

As a coach of under 16’s in Australia, there is such inconsistency on what is taught to players from team to team. There is also unconsistency in what is pick up as leagal and not between referee’s. The best tip for coaching my boy’s is to teach them from experience and knowledge from the association on which you recieve accreditation. If you don’t have a accreditation or you don’t want coach still do the course to better your playing ability and lead rugby to another level of playing. P.S also don’t teach what video is demonstrating.

Comment by Bell

sorry about all spelling errors I should edit before I submit Bell :)…

Comment by Bell

First off let me say that not only is what she teaching super Dangerous but also Illeagal, the laws clearly state that at Ruck time, and I know its not a ruck, but will be when the defender gets involved,. ones head and shoulders must be above the hips this is not so in this training video and so to all intents it is Illegal in terms of LAW 16.2 JOINING A RUCK
(a) All players forming, joining or taking part in a ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips.

Penalty: Free Kick

(b) A player joining a ruck must bind onto the ruck with at least one arm around the body of a team mate, using the whole arm.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(c) Placing a hand on another player in the ruck does not constitute binding.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(d) All players forming, joining or taking part in a ruck must be on their feet.

Penalty: Penalty Kick


(a) Players in a ruck must endeavour to stay on their feet.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(b) A player must not intentionally fall or kneel in a ruck. This is dangerous play.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(c) A player must not intentionally collapse a ruck. This is dangerous play.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(d) A player must not jump on top of a ruck.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

(e) Players must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips.

Penalty: Free Kick

Check it out the LAWS have it covered enough said!
Robin Raphael

Comment by Robin Raphael

I know that bridging is not allowed at all in womens rugby, however on my team and many in mens collegiate rugby it is allowed. Before every game i asked the ref to make sure, and almost always the response is that 1) your shoulders must be above your hips, 2) Must have your head up and not dug into the downed player and 3) if the player were not there you would be able to support your own weight…if not, they consider it diving over

Comment by Jim

I coach women’s collegiate rugby at the D3 level in the US, and we were surprised with this technique being used against us last year, and again this season. I figured once was a fluke, it was just one referee not caring, but if the teams in our league are regularly using this and not being penalized for it, I feel it is unfair to my players not to teach them how to do it as well. The teams that have done this well have dominated possession on rucks. What I am stressing to my players is that this is only one way out of several to ruck, but they should add it to their arsenal of skills to use in situations where the opposition are bigger or better drivers than they are. Put Me In Coach blog has a measured discussion on the subject, and when I attended the USA Rugby annual coaching conference in Hartford, CT this past August, I specifically asked about the sealing on rucks question and was assured by the national head of the ref union that as long as players stay on their feet and work to keep their heads higher than their hips, it’s legal. To me this means that the coaches in the video are coming in with their hips too high and leaning too heavily on the tackled player. We’ve seen it done where the binding player doesn’t lean her elbows down, just keeps her head in a neutral/inline position and reaches down to grab a fistful of jersey.

Comment by Eliza

People do this all the time at the highschool level and i was wondering if its legal to step on someones hand if they are bridging…another thing that occurs at the highschool level alot

Comment by Kyle

at the start the comment ‘we dont need to turn this into a maul …’ with a ball carrier and one from each team it already is ! plus, teach to tackle with a long neck so we have as long shoulder …. not a short turtle neck !!

Comment by Bernie (canberra)

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